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When should you obtain a model or property release?

The message When should you obtain a model or property release? first appeared at Digital Photography School. It was written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Model and property releases are required if you want to use your photos commercially. This also applies if you plan to upload your photos to a stock broker who will license them for commercial use. These rules only apply to photos that contain recognizable people or material that is copyrighted.

Market Scene When should you obtain a model or property release?

I have a model version for this photo so that I can sell it commercially or on stock photography websites under a commercial license. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

If someone can identify himself in a photo, he needs a model release. Even if your photo of a person is a silhouette, it needs a model release for commercial use. Everything that a company logo, house style, photo or artwork displays must be accompanied by an appropriate property release if it is used commercially.

Release requirements vary from country to country, even from state to state. To be sure, you must do a due diligence. This article addresses the broader issues of model and ownership releases and should not be considered as legal advice in any way.

What are model and property releases?

These documents are written, signed agreements between the photographer and the people or property on a photo.

If you have a photo of a group of recognizable people that you want to upload to a stock photo website for commercial sale, each person in the photo must individually sign a model release.

When should you obtain a model or property release? Commuters

This photo can be used commercially without a license because no one is recognizable in the photo. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Pictures of things like cars, shop fronts and even some buttons require the signature of the copyright owner or a property release to use them commercially. There are also many other situations where property releases are required.

The famous Eiffel Tower of France does not require a property release during the day. However, if you photograph this iconic landmark at night, a release is needed to use it commercially. The lighting design that illuminates the tower at night is protected by copyright. Many other public buildings are subject to copyright laws, as well as private buildings. So do your homework before you start a commercial photography job.

When should you obtain a model or property release? Merlion Park, Singapore

A property release is required to use this image commercially. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

How can you know if you need a property release?

Research is easy these days. Jump online and do a quick, specific search and you will find your answer. It is best to do this early in your schedule, because if a release is needed, it will have a significant impact.

You often do not receive a property release. I cannot imagine that a company would even pay attention to requests for general releases of their intellectual property.

In some situations you need permission to take pictures. When you are in public possession, there are no restrictions on what you can photograph in most countries. Restrictions only play a role if you want to publish your photos.

Photographing on private property and in some public areas such as museums and galleries, you must request permission.

Err on the side of caution. Commercial use of photos with physical or intellectual property without an appropriate release can be very expensive if you are sued.

When should you obtain a model or property release? Jet ski on the beach

This photo can be sold commercially because there is no visible branding on the jet ski. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Is it difficult to obtain a model release?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

When photographing friends, family or rented models, it can be quite simple to get them to sign a model release. Careful communication is essential and it pays to get model releases before shooting.

When should you obtain a model or property release? Song Khran Fun - Thai New year

I have model releases for the two recognizable people in this photo, so it can be sold commercially. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Explain to the people you are going to photograph what you intend to do with the photos and ask them if they have any objections. If not, have them sign a release form.

Many people want to meet this. You can offer them something in exchange for their services. Digital copies of their photos are often sufficient. When working with models, I always have to sign a model version before starting the photo session.

Minors cannot sign a release form themselves. If you are photographing someone under 18, you must have a parent or legal guardian who signs the release for them.

When should you obtain a model or property release? Songkran party in Chiang Mai

It would be impossible to use this photo commercially because it contains so many people and so many corporate images. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

At times when I photographed groups of people, I had a few who didn't want to sign a release. This is problematic because it limits the entire photo session. I eventually excluded these people from most photos because their potential use is very limited.

If you often photograph the same models, it is best to have them sign a new release form every time you work with them. Having a signed model version that is months or even a few days old can cause problems. Most stock photo agencies need releases for photos taken on different days.

A witness must also sign the model release the moment the person you are photographing adds his signature. Incorrectly completed release forms will be rejected.

When should you obtain a model or property release? Attractive young photographer

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

I even once rejected a model version by a stock agency because the form was in the wrong language. I had photographed this young woman in Thailand and had completed her standard release form. She is a French citizen who lives in France. Because the address she gave showed that she lives in Paris, the release form had to be in the French language. Fortunately, I was able to email her a copy in French that she had signed, had someone testify and sent it back.

Conclusion

Obtaining model and property releases may seem like a big hassle if you are not used to the process. It is a necessary part of being a professional photographer, or even an enthusiastic amateur, who wants to license photos for commercial use.

You must be well organized. You must clearly communicate your intentions and that you need a model release before you start taking pictures. Don't be lax and wait until later – it may be too late later.

Property releases are generally much harder to obtain unless you are the owner.

Be brave. If you don't ask, you won't get it. Be methodical. Build release acquisition in your workflow. Keep good records, even photograph the person with the signed release form. Once you've collected a few signed releases, the whole process will seem less daunting.

The message When should you obtain a model or property release? first appeared at Digital Photography School. It was written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

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